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A Bilingual Child: Living With a Parrot


Living with a bilingual parrot

Pieces of eight – DeusXFloridaCC-BY-2.0

When I was a kid we had a variety of different animals around the house.  It was never exactly a menagerie, but at one time or another we had some fish, a couple of vicious budgies, dogs and a couple of stray cats who moved in and made themselves at home.  I loved our dogs, but I didn’t really have a lot of time for the other animals, especially the budgies who would bite your finger off as soon as look at you.

At the moment we don’t have any animals, but we are planning to get a dog in the New Year when we move into our house.  (Just make sure you don’t tell Mr. T as he will get far too excited about it.)

While it is sad not having any animals to share our lives with, our son has been doing his best to make up for it by either roleplaying animals or getting me to pretend to be an animal.  Hs favourite is a dog, hence the plan to get one early next year.  Sometimes, Mr. T will be a dog and bark (Brazilian dogs say ‘au au‘ not ‘woof woof’) jump up and down and try to lick people.

After a while he will decide I have to become a dog and he becomes Tio Ivan.  Tio Ivan, or Uncle Ivan, is actually Mr T’s great-uncle, but the thing is that he has two dogs: Golden Retrievers called Arthur and Mel.  I have to be Arthur and I am not allowed to jump, I have to get my stomach tickled and run after balls.  It’s all great fun for Mr. T, but it doesn’t do my knees much good.

Other animals that we have to pretend to be have included horses (can you guess who has to do all of the running?), crocodiles, sharks and bats.

Mr. T’s best impression, though, is of a parrot.  As every fan of pirate films knows, parrots are great at repeating what you say, even if they don’t understand what is being said.  Mr. T has taken to listening to conversation in either Portuguese or English and then trying to mimic the last few words of each phrase.  If you look at him while he is doing this he puts on a shy smile and hides his face.  But as soon as you look away and continue with the conversation he returns to parroting the conversation.

I had a vicious budgie when I was a kid

Watch out! He’ll have your whole hand off! – Dwayne MaddenCC-BY-2.0

We laugh at this and call him a parrot which sometimes he likes and other times he denies.  It’s all good fun and has started to become a family tradition.

I have been encouraging him of late by slowing down some of my sentences and repeating them so that he can hear them better.  I think it helps him learn vocabulary in both languages as he tries to say words, even if he doesn’t yet understand all of the meanings.

More importantly than this, though, is the effect it has on the rhythm and the intonation of the two languages.  Portuguese and English share a lot of similarities, especially if compared to a non-European language like Chinese.  However, there are important differences and copying the way we are saying sentences, despite not getting all of the words correct, will only help him to develop, identify and control the differences between our family languages.

So we might not have a dog (yet), any fish or stray cats, but I’d take our human parrot over a psychotic budgie any day of the week.

Further Reading

I had a bit of a problem on Monday evening when I finished ‘Insurrection‘ by Robin Young because I thought I didn’t have anything left in the house to read.  I looked through my bookshelf in a state of near-panic when I found ‘The New Republic‘ by Lionel Shriver.  I got it for Christmas last year and just never botherd to start it because it is a hard back and they are very heavy to cart around in my bag all day.  So far it has been a decent book about a disillioned coporate lawyer who jacks it all in to become a journalist and ends up covering a terrorist organisation in a make-believe European country just to the south of Portugal.

Written by
Noah Cooper

I'm the head of the Cooper heard. My wife and I moved abroad when our first son who came along in May, 2011. I am a typical Brit abroad with a family to raise and am sharing the journey of the expat life abroad.

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Written by Noah Cooper